Things are getting Sillie in Phoenix

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    Well, well, well.

    In the non-surprise of the century, Jim Balsillie put in an offer on the recently-bankrupted Phoenix Coyotes before the ink had even dried on the bankruptcy papers.    With a condition, of course:  that he would have the right to move the team to Southern Ontario.

    It’s not so much the offer that is of note – it’s been rumoured for months that he was targeting the franchise – but the timing of it is quite intriguing.   Could there be some legs to those rumours of a second team in the GTA after all?

    Consider the recent chain of events:

    • Reports suggest Phoenix Coyotes are in serious financial trouble
    • Jim Balsillie rumoured to be interested in buying and moving the Coyotes
    • Glendale, AZ city manager suggests NHL has begun to assume control of the franchise; Coyotes team president issues denial
    • Secret meeting alleged to have occurred between Paul Kelly, Bob Daly, and Kevin Maguire about the possible relocation of an NHL franchise to Toronto; Daly issues denial
    • Paul Kelly appears on Sportsnet and suggests that a meeting took place; openly discusses the benefits of the NHL having another team in the GTA
    • Phoenix Coyotes file for bankruptcy; NHL officially assumes control of franchise operations
    • Jim Balsillie makes an immediate offer of $212.5 million – far more than the team is worth – with the condition that he have the right to move the team to Southern Ontario

    The pieces certainly seem to fit the puzzle, do they not?

    Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.   The sort of offer Balsillie submitted does not get drafted overnight.   After news of the offer broke, he let slip something quite telling during his brief media appearance: “The current team ownership asked that I table an offer to purchase the Coyotes and significant discussions resulted in an offer that is in the best interests of the franchise, the NHL, and the great hockey fans of Canada and Southern Ontario.”

    What happens now is the situation will play itself out in Bankruptcy Court, where the team will most likely be sold via court decision.   Enter Balsillie and his mega-offer.   He was previously blocked by Bettman in his bid to get the Nashville Predators, who were not bankrupt and thus were not subject to any court proceedings.   However, this time may be different.  If Balsillie can convince the court to allow his offer to purchase the Coyotes to stand, there may not be a thing Bettman can do to block it, save for making the case for a different buyer.    Here’s the problem:  because this is a bankruptcy proceeding and thus creditors must get paid, any potential buyer’s offer would have to exceed Balsillie’s $212.5 million.

    According to Steve Roman, spokesman for the owner of the Coyotes, “if others want to come in and there’s an offer that is deemed better by the courts, then ultimately that would be a court decision … you have a person who has a purchase agreement, but at the same time there could be other players who want to get involved.”

    Stay tuned … this one’s about to get real nasty, folks.

    Although the idea of moving a team to GTA – or anywhere in Southern Ontario, for that matter – has yet to be seriously considered by the NHL and its Board of Governers as a possible course of action, Jim Balsillie has been considering it for quite some time.  And it appears that now he may have his chance, courtesy of the bankruptcy proceedings in Phoenix.   Interesting that the $212.5 million he is offering reportedly covers all of the Coyotes’ outstanding debts, don’t you think?

    True, we haven’t seen any fire.  Not yet.  But there sure is a heck of a lot of smoke in the air.

    Perhaps, at the end of the day, nothing comes of this.   Maybe the team is sold to somebody else.    Maybe it stays in Phoenix, or winds up in Kansas City, or (ugh) Las Vegas.   Or maybe the NHL has some sort of provision that allows them the right of refusal on any potential owner, regardless of the court’s decision.  But one thing is for certain:  Balsillie wants to move the team north.   You can bet that the NHL’s Board of Governers are paying close attention to this situation, and have been for much longer than they are willing to admit.

    For more details on all of this, check out the excellent in-depth analysis over at Toronto Sports Media.

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